from: South Florida
favorite cereal: Rice Krispies
October 13th, “Above the Plane” at Design Within Reach, San Francisco CA
November 11th, “Metaphysics”, solo show at a.Muse Gallery, San Francisco CA
Refraction Art recently caught up with multi-media artist Meryl Pataky for a Q & A:
RA: To start, I’m intrigued by your choice of medium. Among many other materials, you often use neon. Why?
MP: I suppose what initially drew me to it was the glow of it. When people ask “why neon?”, I usually tell them that I am drawn to tedious processes. It’s really annoying but I keep doing it to myself. I’ve noticed that I like for my materials to provide me with a certain resistance. My specialties are in neon and metal arts. Both materials provide various levels of resistance during the creative process, making the end result more rewarding.
RA: What are some of the difficulties posed in the studio while working in neon? Tell me a little bit about the medium itself, and what sort of facility you need.
MP: Perfect next question. The equipment is unique to the medium. You need specialty burners for your fires. The fire consists of either artificial or natural gas combined with a constant flow of air. Neon as a medium is temperamental. Glass experiences thermal shock. When it is heated up too quickly after being at room temperature, it has the ability to shatter or crack. When this happens, depending on the extent of the break, sometimes you need to start all over. Cuts and burns are common. Glass, like some metal, does not show it’s temperature and sometimes you find yourself with a long burn across your palm from picking up a hot piece of glass. Pattern drawing and understanding the mathematical structure of the piece are very important before getting started with your bending.
RA: Are you limited in colors when it comes to neon, or is the sky the limit?
MP: This is a tricky question. Colors aren’t limited, but gasses are. The gasses being used for neon are: neon (red), argon (a dim blue-ish purple), helium (peach) and krypton (a dim white-ish purple). These gasses are part of the noble gas family – they are inert and elemental. You can also add a ball of mercury to the gas after it has been pumped within your glass to change the brilliance and sometimes color. The benefit of working with clear glass is that you can see the flow of the gas within the tubing. The neon industry makes phosphor coated glass that reacts with different gasses to produce different colors. For example, you can buy a yellow coated glass or a green coated glass and pump krypton into it to get the phosphor’s color (even add mercury to add to the brilliance) or you could pump neon into a green phosphor coated tube to get a tangerine color. The only downfall, as I see it, is not being able to see the gas’s life within the tube.
“Mostly, people were disgusted but I received good critiques because of that. I enjoy that reaction, though - it seems like a stronger emotion than that of admiration. It comes from a different place.”
RA: What is the time frame from conception to completion of one of your pieces?
MP: I sort of have to laugh at this question just because I tend to think about things too much. The planning and pattern drawing process for me is a very long process. This could be a good thing or a bad thing – while I over think things too much and waste time not bending, I am also covering all of my bases before I do. It’s a delicate balance that I’m still working on so the “turn around” for my work varies from piece to piece. I suppose on average it’s 2 – 4 weeks.
RA: The swings are wonderful. They are playful on the surface, but there is definitely something startling about them as well. Can you tell me about the concept of this body of work?
MP: I am not sure if you are asking about all of my swings or just the neon ones. The idea for swings, in general, came from a desire for simplicity in life and also an observation of how our experiences in life shape our character. The simplicity I speak of is that present in childhood. It is unique because we never have that again – the way we see the world when we are young is a special thing. We are fearless, in a way, and optimistic. The action of swinging is significant as well as the basic nostalgic image.
RA: I saw that one of your swings was quite dark in mood, tumor-like, and you had live cockroaches scuttling over its surface. This was installed in a gallery, correct? What were some of the reactions you’ve gotten from this piece?
MP: That piece was installed at school and it’s about death and decomposition – two things people don’t usually like to think about but ever-present happenings day to day. Mostly, people were disgusted but I received good critiques because of that. I enjoy that reaction, though – it seems like a stronger emotion than that of admiration. It comes from a different place.
RA: You have recently graduated from Academy of Art University. What has life been like after graduation? How do you keep the momentum of your work going?
MP: Well, I had to find a job really quickly. It’s hard trying to be an artist because you always need a day job to pay for everything. Making work and showing that work is a gamble because your putting money into it never knowing if you’ll get money back from a sale. So far, life after school has been great. I have booked two shows before the end of this year, both for my neon and one is a solo show in November at a.Muse Gallery here in San Francisco. In terms of keeping your momentum going I suppose it’s a matter of not having a choice! You HAVE to. It really helps to have a good support system of artists around you, though, to keep you moving.
RA: What inspires you in the studio? Do you work with music playing? Are there any particular sources of inspiration you like to have around?
MP: I HAVE to have music playing. I will leave the house late in the morning if my ipod isn’t charged so that I have music to listen to when I work. I think music is really important – it can set the tone of your work pattern for the day and set your mood as well. One really poignant source of inspiration to me is Kurt Vonnegut’s famous mantra, “So it goes.” Also, a French graffiti artist by the name of Blek Le Rat made a poster of his mantra, “Art is not Peace but War.” I love both of these philosophies and reflect on them often. I would like to contact Blek Le Rat sometime in the future and ask him what he thinks of me creating a neon sign of his mantra.
“It’s a terribly frustrating thing I do but it’s catharsis in the end.”
RA: It looks to me that in all your work the figure itself is absent, yet the implication of its absence is everywhere. Am I reaching too far to suggest that, in a sense, your work is figurative?
MP: I had to think about this a lot! I don’t think you are reaching that far with this concept but I suppose only when it concerns the swings. It’s obvious that the figure belongs in the swing and these works (along with my others) are discussing the human condition and a metaphysical concept of being. I think that the figure is often used to translate a mood through gesture. I have never had the urge to put a figure in my work although I admire successful work that uses gesture to get a feeling or mood across. I, instead, enjoy using various unexpected materials to do the same thing.
RA: Tell me about the creative process. Do you have a definite idea of what the finished piece will be like once you begin? Do you make sketches, write, or make models to help prepare?
MP: Even though I said I think too much in the planning process I am still a horrible planner. I mostly write about my work and rarely sketch, draw or make maquettes unless there is something that my mind just can’t wrap around. I tend to keep my piece in my head until it’s made and completed. It’s a terribly frustrating thing I do but it’s catharsis in the end.
RA: Which sculptors/visual artists do you admire most?
MP: Eva Hess, Louise Bourgeois, Joseph Beuys, Stephen DeStabler, Cornelia Parker, Anne Hamilton, Man Ray, Diane Al Hadid, Cai Guio-Qiang, Ernesto Neto, Tracey Emin, to name some.
RA: You live in San Francisco, right? How do you think the city factors into your work as an influence, if at all?
MP: I’m not sure if it does or doesn’t. I have been living here for nearly 9 years so I think I’m immune to the wonders of this city, unfortunately. I think it’s a subconscious influence and perhaps it influences me more than I realize. I am a believer that surroundings are a main influence on one’s being but it’s not something you always feel or recognize.
RA: If you could be teleported to any time, and any place, where would you go?
MP: Probably to Tralfamadore (see Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.)